"I’m pretty sure that’s where the Grove magic started."


Since part of my job is to represent our publishers and authors to my accounts, I find it often helps if I can get to know the writers personally, especially if they live in the South. When I met author Jamie Quatro for coffee in Chattanooga, I asked her to tell me a little about herself and how it came about that Grove/Atlantic was publishing her new book. Little did I know then that magic was involved, and it was just meant to be.


This is the wonderful story she told me as we sat in a 
coffee shop on Third Street:

"I was at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference—a dizzying and inspiring twelve days of workshops, panels, lectures, readings. One of the conference highlights was a panel in memory of Barry Hannah, the man whose work made me want to be a writer in the first place. I’d read everything; published articles about him in the Oxford American; gave a graduate lecture at Bennington on his “pornographic” syntax. Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Faulkner, Hannah: my literary hall of fame.

At the last minute, I invited Barry’s son Po (a friend) to drive down from Knoxville so he could hear the panelists—Bob Shacochis, Christine Schutt, Erin McGraw, William Gay, and Tom Franklin. Po hadn’t been to Sewanee in years, certainly not since his Dad had passed away. He told me he was heading down to Oxford that day anyhow, to attend Dean Faulkner’s funeral, but said he’d have a bit of time to show me some of his dad’s old stomping grounds.

Po walked in with William Gay and Bob Shacochis. The four of us stood in a circle; one of my Bennington mentors, Jill McCorkle, came over to join us. Po reached into his pocket and placed something in my hand. “I think Dad would want you to have this,” he said. I was holding Barry’s gold-plated cigarette lighter. It was a hushed and holy moment. Light from the magician on high.

I’m pretty sure that’s where the Grove magic started.

The next morning, as had become my habit, I walked to the Blue Chair Café for coffee. I sat at one of the small tables outside and started to read the day’s workshop stories. A few minutes later, this gorgeous woman – long, thick hair, big smile, slender, athletic build—sat down beside me. When she took a manuscript out of her bag, I figured she was a writer. We made small talk. I told her I was there for the conference, and she said she was too, but that was it. We both returned to the pages in front of us.

Later that morning, I went to the publishing panel and found out the woman was Elisabeth Schmitz from Grove/Atlantic. She and Gary Fisketjon from Knopf spoke on the panel together; it turned out they were both regulars at Sewanee. I ran into Elisabeth twice more that day. In both instances, we were alone—astonishing, given the number of writers at the conference. We never talked about my work, or hers. I don’t think she even knew I wrote fiction. I mostly wanted to ask her how she kept her arms so toned.
                                                                                                                                   
Two months later my agent, Anna Stein, was ready to go out with my collection. She sent me a list of editors she wanted to send the manuscript to. I told Anna how much I’d liked Elisabeth; Anna added her to the list. The day after she sent out the manuscript, I left for a two-week residency at the MacDowell Colony. I figured I wouldn’t hear anything for at least a few weeks. But in the Atlanta airport, waiting to board the plane to Manchester, I checked my email one last time—and found out the book was going to auction. It happened that fast.

A few days later I met my agent in New York City. We had meetings set up with the bidding houses—I wanted to meet the editors in person. Grove was our last meeting. We walked up the stairs (the Grove offices are above a Bikram yoga studio) and stood in the main office, looking at the books on the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves.

When Elisabeth came out and saw me, she looked slightly stunned. My agent introduced us; I shook her hand.

I met you at Sewanee, I said.

Yes, I remember, she said. So this book is yours?

I sat on the couch in Elisabeth’s office. And there was Hannah: a picture of him (and Jeanette Winterson, among others) on the wall behind Elisabeth’s desk; Long, Last, Happy on her shelves.

I’m in Barry’s house, I thought.

I just don’t understand why you didn’t tell me you had a collection, when we were at Sewanee, Elisabeth said.

I don’t remember how I answered her. I must have said something about how it felt uncouth to try to sell myself like that. But the mystic in me wants to believe I didn’t say anything because that would have ruined the surprise of that moment, sitting there in her office; Barry looking down, a fluke thunderstorm raging outside.

Of course, the rational part of me still says: coincidence.

By the time I left Grove, the storm had blown over. The village streets were wet and glinting in the late afternoon sunlight. Elisabeth walked me out, pointed me in the direction of the subway station, gave me a hug. Before heading uptown, I wandered around the Strand.

There was Barry again.

When Grove won the auction, it felt like coming home.



Jamie's book, I Want to Show You More has just been released. I absolutely loved it, treat yourself and buy one now from your local independent bookstore.

Comments

Chuck Lustig said…
Oh, my! Did your story hit me in the heart. Like you, I met Elizabeth at Sewanee (I was there just last summer) and she immediately became my dream editor. I'm praying something like what happened to you will happen to me, and I'll wind up at Grove, but we'll see.
BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR NEW COLLECTION, Jamie!
Best,
Charles Lustig
clustig@excitingwriting.com

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